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Marijuana in the Forests: A Localized Silent Spring in the Making?

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For this week’s Forestry Friday post I want to follow up on last week’s discussion of drug cartels destroying the forests of Mexico by bringing this story into the forests of California. A team of scientists at UC-Davis conducted a study about recent deaths in the population of the rare Pacific fisher, a member of the weasel family. What they found was disturbing. Essentially, the Mexican drug cartels are using a huge amount of rat poison on their hidden plantations in the Sierra Nevada. The rodents eat the poison, but they don’t die immediately. As predators kill the still living rodents, they ingest the poison into their own system. It builds up and they die a horrible, painful death that turns their internal organs to mush. 79% of the fisher carcasses studied had rat poison in their system.

Of course, fishers aren’t the only animals to eat forest rodents. Like other poisons, it moves up the food chain. The study worries about the impact of poison on other predatory mammals. The effect of this poison upon birds has not been studied, at least to my knowledge, but we can probably make an educated guess about that. This rat poison, which the cartels use in huge amounts (I’ve seen the original report with DEA pictures from raided pot plantations), also washes into streams and affects fish and other aquatic creatures.

Effectively, this poison enters the food chain in ways not dissimilar from DDT and other famous poisons. Of course, this is not widespread enough to truly cause a Silent Spring-type scenario, but on a local level, this rat poison could have an enormous effect on the forest ecosystem.

There are two logical policy moves that would help eliminate this problem. In the short term, the DEA needs to put its resources toward eliminating these cartel operations and away from the easier to find operations on the west coast. Second, we need to decriminalize marijuana. California will eventually decriminalize, over the objections of the pot growers themselves who profit off criminalization, but it has to be nationwide. Otherwise, the cartels still have reason to go into our national forests and tear up the environment in order to provide Americans’ seemingly insatiable demand for the drug.

More detailed info about the state of the Pacific fisher is here.

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